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Supreme Court asked to review gambling lawsuit

A group of gambling opponents last week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision by New York's high court last spring that upheld the spread of casino gambling to Indian land and racetracks.

The group is seeking to halt the Seneca Nation's casino empire and the spread of Las Vegas-style casinos in the Catskills and at racetracks. It said the nation's highest court has a legal obligation to consider the challenge to the 2001 New York law expanding gambling across the state.

In court papers, the organization said it wants the Supreme Court to decide whether the 1988 federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act -- which opened the doors to tribal casinos -- supersedes a state constitution that specifically bans commercial gambling.

"Does [the act] empower a state to pass a law that its own constitution's Bill of Rights otherwise forbids it from enacting?" the petition filed with the court asks.

The Supreme Court is the last stop for the anti-gambling group, whose members include religious leaders, civic groups, the Western New York Coalition Against Casino Gambling and two state lawmakers, including Assemblyman William Parment, D-Jamestown.

A law enacted shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks opened the gambling floodgates in New York. It permitted the Seneca Nation to operate three casinos in Western New York -- two of which have since opened -- and other tribes to locate three casinos in the Catskills. It also allowed video lottery terminals, similar to slot machines, to be placed at racetracks, such as the harness tracks in Hamburg and Batavia.
In May, the State Court of Appeals gave a final rejection to the case.

On the Indian issue, it pointed to the 1988 federal law permitting states to have such gambling compacts with Indian tribes. The court rejected the argument that federal law "specifically provides that state laws prohibiting gambling will apply on Indian lands."

Opponents have said the state's high court conceded that Indian casinos would have been illegal under state law were it not for the 1988 federal law. Now, before the nation's highest court, they want a legal ruling on whether the federal law supersedes language in a state constitution.

"The voice Congress intended states to have, however, has been silenced by a judicial alchemy that transmuted an option into a mandate. This court now has the opportunity to correct the error to ensure that [the Indian gambling act] accomplishes what Congress intended all along," state the papers filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Pataki administration, which won the state court case, did not have an immediate comment on the new challenge.

Bennett Liebman, who runs an Albany Law School think tank on the gambling industry, said the state has little to worry about: "Getting the court to even take this appeal is an extra long shot. This is just a prayer."

The state has 30 days to respond, after which the Supreme Court will decide whether to review the matter, Cornelius Murray, a lawyer for the group, said in a written statement.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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